The Way Things Used to Be

We got married fast. It was surprising to me. There we were, a married couple, dressing and undressing in front of each other, sharing a bathroom, sharing friends. But it wasn’t like I expected. All the easiness was gone. Before when he would hold my hand it was thrilling. His hands were soft and dry and bigger than mine. I liked to tickle his palms. It was a thing we did, his hand open on my knee, while he drove the car. That’s my picture of him, in profile, at night, driving through town. His nose was long and sharp and his mouth was thin. If I scratched the back of his head he’d tilt it just enough to let me. He drove me to Salmon to get my things and meet my parents. He drove the whole way without a break, even though I offered to drive. I was impressed with his fortitude. My dad thought he was cold. I assured him he was not.  

Before we were married I would sleep in on Saturdays because I worked late during the week. I was a nurse at Valley Hospital, where I worked in the ER, and sometimes had to watch people die. I liked to stay in bed and feel the warm covers while the room got bright, and anticipate the open day in front of me. After we were married I couldn’t do that anymore. At least not without a certain uneasiness. Richard didn’t sleep in. He put a chair next to the bed and he would get up and read. Usually it was his scriptures. That was his morning routine, and on Saturdays he expected me to be doing that too. I tried to talk to him from the bed.

            “Good morning,” I would say.

            He would follow the line he was reading with his finger until he reached a stopping point, then he’d hold his finger there and, raising his eyes, he’d nod at me, and continue reading.

            “What are you reading?” I’d say, because I was willing to talk about it with him, I was a believer too, we went to church together; that’s how we met. He’d go through the same show of inconvenience and give me a one-word answer of the book of the Bible he was in, Isaiah, or Job, or Matthew, some man’s name. One Saturday I was surprised to feel him still in bed next to me. It was warm, and the room was growing light. I draped my leg over his and I could feel that he was aroused. I made sure of what I was feeling with my knee, then lifted my head to see if he was awake. I laid back down but I didn’t take my leg away. I closed my eyes and enjoyed feeling him there with me. Gently I moved my knee up and down. He pushed it away and got out of bed. He fixed his hair then adjusted his pajamas and got a handful of clothes from the dresser and took them into the bathroom. I didn’t see him again until he was dressed and ready and he came out and sat in his chair and started to read. I laid in bed listening to the shower and then observing him while he read.

“I’m sorry,” I said.

He paused when his finger reached the end of a line.

“Good morning,” he said.

He went back to reading.

I laid there adjusting my expectations for what was normal, thinking about what I did wrong. I decided he wanted his privacy. I felt slothful and grungy being in bed, so I got out of bed too, and when we were both clean and ready for the day I felt happy and proud when he kissed me on the forehead as a way of showing me things were okay between us.

He hung a picture in the hallway outside our bedroom, of his mom and dad. It was old and originally it had been black and white, so that his mom’s skin looked ashen and her artificially colored cheeks too pink and rosy. His dad was sharp and handsome, a young World War II veteran with short blonde hair and a circumspect smile. His parents were mysterious to me. They’d been divorced and his dad had remarried and left everything to his new wife when he died. But his mom still wore her ring and he still put their picture up on the wall. He wouldn’t tell me how his dad died, or who his stepmom was. He had brothers and sisters, but I didn’t know them either. He was only close to his mom. She lived in an apartment in Springville, and he would take me out there, and the three of us would eat quiet meals together on her nice china. We’d clean up and polish her silver piece by piece and store it in a special wrap in the china hutch.

I liked to swim in the pool at our apartment complex. From our apartment you could see the pool and who was there and how crowded it was. I liked to read there in the afternoons before my shift, if it wasn’t crowded. I’d wear my swimsuit and get wet and then dry off and feel the sun and read. I was skinny and blond and guys were interested in me.

One afternoon Richard was working from home. He did that sometimes; he was in a graduate program for Hebrew Studies, and he would stay home to write or use his personal library. I was hesitant to go to the pool because he was home. I went through a mental checklist to make sure I was acting normal before I followed my routine. I was the only one at the pool until these two guys came out. They were loud and muscly. I drew my knees together and went on reading because I didn’t have any reason not to. They tried to get my attention and in the end I gave in because I still didn’t have any proof that they weren’t just silly boys. They wanted me to get in the water and I brushed them off with a smile and went back to my book. They were by the edge of the pool, giving me their attention, and my heart was racing. I went on reading. I turned my head enough to see the apartment. I knew Richard could see us and maybe even hear them. He couldn’t stand noise. He complained all the time about the “meatheads” who made the complex feel like a frat house. I saw him at the sliding glass door in the kitchen, watching us, and felt even more nervous. I told them I was married and the white guy made a joke that he was too, and his black friend laughed and said he was as free as a bird, and I didn’t want to be rude, so I wasn’t abrupt with them. When it was over and they weren’t giving me their attention anymore, I pretended to still be reading, because I wanted to act like nothing noteworthy had happened.

“Why didn’t you come in?” Richard said when I was inside.

“What?” I said.

I was acting innocent but my heart was in my throat.

“You know I saw you. You looked at me. You were out there flaunting yourself at the pool. You didn’t stop when you knew you should have. You asked those men for their attention. Why didn’t you come inside?”

“Those guys were nice. I’ve seen them there before. They were just saying hi.”

“That’s not how you ‘say hi,’ Grace. Don’t be naïve.”

I shrugged to keep it light. “I need to shower,” I said.

I turned to go. He shouted and swiped the salt and pepper shakers off the island. The salt shaker shattered and the salt spread over the floor. The pepper shaker hit the sliding glass door and landed upright. I stayed where I was to wait for this to blow over. It was the only way to get past it. His face was red and he was crouching and telling me how I made him feel, how it was my fault. He shaped his hand like a pistol and put his fingers to his head and told me if he had a gun he’d shoot his brains out. After a minute or so I started to clean up his mess because sometimes that would end things. He would watch me work, then I would go away, and the next time I saw him things would be better. He grabbed my wrist and held it. I told him he was hurting me. He pushed me against the island and held himself against me and I could feel he was aroused. This wasn’t a new thing, but usually he was softer than this. We were in view of the sliding glass door and I was angry because he broke my salt shaker and because he was hurting my wrist. I resisted and he tore my swimsuit so that my waist was showing and my suit was wedged in the front and the back. I tried to slide away from him. He was holding my suit and stretching it. He still had my wrist. He was wearing a white t-shirt tucked into his blue jeans. He was clean-shaven and strong. I was leaning backwards over the island to distance myself and his eyes flickered over my suit. I brought my knee between his legs hard and got free and got around to the other side of the island, panting and nervous to look away. I wanted to fix my suit and I wanted this to be over. I didn’t want to do this anymore.

“Richard,” I said.

It was silent.

“I’m sorry,” I said.

He started to come around the island and I was watching him and not moving.

I decided it would be quicker and safer if I gave in, and I waited for him to come.

I could see the guys at the pool outside and I watched them on purpose because it was somewhere else to look. Somewhere to take my mind. Something to focus on. I held the counter, doubting myself.

Our upstairs neighbors were Dave and Linda. They were our friends and we would have dinner with them sometimes. They had a daughter named June, and I liked to hold her, and feel her trust. Linda would ask me about the “loud talks” she heard through the floor. I pretended I didn’t know what she was talking about. I wondered if she would ask me about this one. If she heard the salt and pepper shakers, or the dish hit the floor when my hand slipped on the island and the plate wobbled in circles until it stopped, or when I cried out because it seemed like I should. I wondered what I would say if she asked. I wondered if Dave was like this too. I wondered if our marriage was failing, and it was embarrassing. I felt guilty for not loving Richard enough. Perhaps he could sense my reserve, and it was hurtful to him. I felt rejuvenated, and ready to keep trying. While I cleaned up the salt, then got ready for work, I was thinking about a way to make things right. I decided that in the morning I would have a chair on my side of the bed too, and I would get up early, even though it was Saturday, and read my scriptures with him. He would like that. I took my swimming suit off and threw it away, not minding that it was torn. It was like a symbol of the way things used to be. I showered and went to work feeling better than I had in a long time.

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